reflections related to disability advocacy, family and (needed) cultural change
Saturday, November 14, 2009
My Hopes for Glee
I have such a mixed bag of feelings about the TV show Glee... My two older kids have always been vocal music-theater-show choir folks, or La-La's as they are called 'round here (the instrumental musicians are called Band-o's, fyi.) They love the show. They love the music and the mash-ups (where they blend 2 unrelated songs & styles into one performance), they love the dance and they LOVE the drama.
I have gotten into watching it with them. The music and dancing are great and the stories have led to lots of conversation.
This week Glee put the whole cast in wheelchairs and introduced two characters with Down syndrome... While the ideas of team-building and of walking a mile in someone else's moccasins aren't totally awful, I had my issues. Naturally!
First, disability simulation exercises usually lead to more pity than understanding (you can tell by the things people say when they are over--more about relief and feeling bad for people, rather than about empathy and feeling more like people with disabilities.) Secondly, having seen professional wheelchair dancers, the performance was kind of one-dimensional...
My daughter saw the show before the rest of us and her concern about wheelchair issues took a definite back seat to her anxiety about what was going to happen between the cheerleading coach and the young teen with Down syndrome.
My son, the actor and I have been discussing whether an actor who can walk should portray a wheelchair-user. He points out that acting is all about portraying people you aren't... He pointed out that he's played a farmer, a skeleton, a soldier, a student, a drunken businessman, and several variations of old men, and some really disturbing evil characters. He's only played a teenager once and that was a boy from the 1940's.
We have talked about blackface, about the percentages of disability in the real world vs. that on TV. And the percentages of average-looking people in the world vs. those portrayed by Hollywood...
As I say the conversation has been interesting. And unresolved... but that's how discussions with teens are!
Interestingly my blog-friends who use wheelchairs hated the show (see here) the bloggers who have kids with Down syndrome liked it (see here and here.) As Wheelchair Dancer points out, a consistent disability message is hard to find, and heirarchical thinking is often accepted--or even promoted--within the disability community itself.
I myself think the show has potential for disability acceptance. They are willing to 'go there' with tough subjects (as evidenced by the ongoing story about the gay student and his father... and all the teen trouble that's rampant, etc) and they don't lose their sense of humor or style as they do it... Kids LIKE the show!
IF they could come to understand that they don't have the whole picture of disability and look outside themselves for info, I think they could be awesome. Some say it's a big IF... we shall see.
To start with:
*They could have the teen girl with Down syndrome pay back the friend that bought her a cupcake--or better yet, lend her some $$. She should be a contributor, not just a recipient.
*They could introduce the kids to some REAL dancers who use wheelchairs.
*Lots could happen with the teen with Down syndrome... and with the big sister (though even if she must live in a nursing home she should still be and about, unless she's sick...) They also need to watch the 'childlike' stereotype.
*They would need to stop the remarks about "Never being able to get up... Never not be disabled... etc..." Gag me. Pity--for self or others--is not a viable life-strategy.
*They could also play up the realizations that many of the kids voiced that using a wheelchair lowered their status. Should it?? Um... no... but it does. That could be explored.
*There is lots of story potential about the difference between accommodation and unfair advantage. It is tricky stuff, but they worked that in with their "Diva-Off," I think they could handle it... IF they got some real input from the disability community.
A lot of this could be woven in with the other story-lines... And finally...
I am the mother of three, wife of one. I am a Partners in Policymaking graduate and a committed disability advocate. I want to catch up on my scrapbooking, learn more about art-journaling, get my house in order, read all the books I have set aside to read and change the world--not necessarily in that order. The opinions in this blog are my own and not those of any of employers.